tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 27, 2010 12:00pm-12:30pm EDT
tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. first up tonight, our conversation with iconic filmmaker ken burns. starting september 28 on pbs, catch the latest project called "baseball: the 10th inning," picking up where his documentary left off in 1994, including the impact of steroids on baseball. it also, the increasing role of women in the american politics with political writer rebecca traister air, looking at the influence of women in the 2008 campaign and her new book, "big girls don't cry." filmmaker ken burns and author rebecca traister, coming up right now. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading. >> i'm james.
>> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is happy to help tavis improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] tavis: always a pleasure to have ken burns on this program. he has once again turn his attention to america's pastime for a new documentary called " baseball: at the 10th inning,"
airing on most pbs stations on september 28. here is a scene from that documentary. >> far base ball players have succumbed to societal pressures to improve themselves, they are no worse than we are. >> people get upset. who in the whole country would not take a pill to take more money at your job? you would. if i said there was a pill in you'd get paid like steven spielberg, you would take the pill. tavis: ken burns joins us from charlotte, north carolina. is that chris rock peace convincing? >> no, it is funny, and he is looking right at me and he has a lot of truth inhat he is saying. we give kids pills to do better in school, we take pills to do better in the bedroom, and suddenly we are shocked when her favorite baseball players may be taking a pill to do better at their job.
but there is complicated morality as well as the sheer sportsmanship of the steroids era that drew me back to the game that i love to try to figure out to parse it any more complicated way, with more undertow and maybe more compassion than our media culture and its by their response of good, bad, black, white, north, south, red states, blue state does. at the national pastime reveals itself to be a startling mirror of who we are, good and bad. tavis: i have you on record saying that you'd never do a sequel, and here you are doing a sequel. >> could we roll that tape back further? how about after the civil war i will never do another film about war. then we did the world war ii thing. i thought taking advantage, but baseball is the only game that
has accompanied our national narrative and reflects good and bad. so much of our national character is embedded in it. we like to think of history as presidential administrations punctuated by wars, but it is about more. it is about race, assimilation, immigration, the growth and decay of cities, labor and management, the nature of heroes and villains and fools, popular culture. all of these things get caught up in baseball. the last two decades have been so consequential in baseball. when we came out in 1990 with our film, 18.5 hours, you would think it would be enough, nine episodes. we were in the middle of a strike, the first time baseball had suspended its plight and the first time the post season was over. you said, whoa, this is something different. then the spectacular action, the unintended positive consequences from the strike. the improbable stuff on the
field, then the steroids scandal. you have to put it in perspective. we really struggled over the past few years to find a way to deal with this recent past in a way that we can understand it. baseball is a sport in which statistics really matter, and a matter over time. yet even statistics require a story be told. if you are sitting with your kid and you look up who won the 1919 world series, it will say the cincinnati red sox, but we know the chicago white sox, forever called the black sox because of the scandal, took money from gamblers and threw that. even that statistic requires a storyteller. babe ruth does not have an asterisk next to his name, but he never played against satchel paige, on and on. now we have this bubble, not unlike the others we have been afflicted with in the economic
world in which the records of baseball have been inflated. thank god we are on the backside of it and is reseeding in the rearview mirror. tavis: i would argue that next year may end up being another bad year for baseball because it is very likely, as you know, next year the barry bonds story will have exploded again with his trial, along with the same time as roger clemens. are we really on the back side of it? next year, perhaps the same time. >> just like world war ii, we constantly talk about it but it is over. the steroids era is over with, but we have to do with the consequences. each year, players it would have normally got into the hall of fame will be rejected by baseball writers because of this. we have to deal with the trials. i think barry bonds will get off. i don't think the government's case is as strong as it is
against roger clemens. both of these gentlemen, let's say, deserve to be in the hall of fame. barry bonds is the greatest player of the last few decades and arguably the greatest player who ever played the game, who will forever be dragging this ball and chain of steroids are around with him. roger clemens also deserves to be in the hall, but it may be possible we have somebody in the hall of fame and in jail at the same time. in that respect, it will be kept alive, in immediate conversation, i remember, george foster hit 50 home runs in 1997, then all the sudden you and i could hit 50 home runs. now is a rarity again. it only seems to have extended pitcher's careers and inflated the home run and lifetime home run achievement, but there were not that many 300 hitters. nobody hit .406 as ted williams
did, nobody had a 50-game hitting streak liked joe dimaggio. nobody did the statistical equivalent of 73 home runs. the genie is not back in the bottle, when we have manny ramirez losing one-third of the season for testing positive for something, and baseball has finally woken up and said we need to get the house in order and that 50 home run season, praise the lord, is back to being a rarity. tavis: with this sequel, to perhaps look at the steroids era with more compassion? i am trying to juxtapose the notion of cheating with compassion. >> yeah, well, one has to be very careful. therefore, we as filmmakers, and by extension you end of the worst, it is a fine line. we were aware of this at all
times. -- and by extension you and viewers, it is a fine line. we are aware of that. wheat really delved into the complicated biography of barry bonds. he is not just the straw man for this. he is an amazingly interesting human being, good and bad. his father's biography is important to know because, of course, we are influenced by our fathers. his godfather is willie mays, and his whole story in baseball is interesting and complicated, and we tend to reduce it to the most superficial level. while you are not looking for excuses to forgive people for the choices that they make, you have to put them in context that also puts us, the media and us the fans of baseball, on the same hope we're putting the players, the players association, and major league baseball. what i felt is by enriching the
story with a complication, by extending as the writer tom boswell of the washington post says in the film, the same degree of sympathy and tolerance for these very human failings that we extend to the people that we love and our closest friends, and try not to turn them into cardboard cutouts. we enrich our own experience in the game and the mythic qualities may fall away, because they're not the perfect heroes. nonetheless, we in which our relationship with them and the game. the proof is in the pudding. the game of baseball is never more popular, never more profitable. more people are watching, more games are televised. people are filling these new beautiful architectural acephate that have been built in both leagues and we are being drawn to the same things we have always been drawn to. i would argue is a lifelong fan
that the quality on the field is never better. we have to find ways to reconcile the fact that for a while, the sands have been tested by this scandal and other unpleasant aspects of the game. but at the same time, we have been able either to just carpenter malaya's -- either to just compartmentalize the ironies of the game, and that is what we try to do in traister." we thought it would be -- in the "the tenth inning." we thought it would be a simple documentary, but it attenuated. i think you will come to terms with the strike and would it did, good and bad, understand more about the steroid scandal and put it in a place where i think he could still love the game and not throw out. just based on our own simplistic morality. if you don't engage in simplistic morality, what you can replace in part with all great skepticism but not
cynicism is the compassion that we try to extend to one another. tavis: what you call architectural acts of faith some people call abuse and misuse of the public taxpayer money. a lot of people who are not baseball fans in the cities with large stadium see tax dollars going to build these architectural acts of faith. given the recession, the burgeoning growth of the game, homelessness, people losing their homes, how you square those? >> you cannot, and that reality coexist with it. most of the stadiums are at least partially publicly financed, and they have in many cases on the positive brought people flooding into the inner city, helping revitalize those places. you think of the very first one of the new models, the new old stadiums, camden yards and what that did in baltimore. yet you could go outside of that sort of area of camden yards and
see the most abject poverty this country has to offer in terms of urban existence. so we have to as americans understand these new ballparks were throwbacks to the old ball parks, but they don't have as many of the cheap seats. they have catered to well-heeled millionaires. we seem to be mending them during our own economic bubble. as that bursts, you cannot always fill the expensive seats. the game of baseball used to be one of the cheapest forms of entertainment for a family of four, and now it is not. these are some of the reconciliations we have to deal with, in which our film in gauges and tries to say, yes, but, and also, as your excellent question does as well. tavis: i am sure we could spend hours talking about this.
let me offer this as a quick exit question. what does the story that you tell about baseball since your last film, the good, bad, the ugly, say about the culture, the parallel between what baseball has gone through, what the culture has gone through? kind of like the chris rock, that anybody would take the pill if we could make money. what do they say about culture? >> it is always that precise -- it may not be a mirror, let's say it is a prism that refracts all of the aspects of loss. as the great sociologist once said, if you want to know the heart and soul of america, you better study baseball. that is what i have tried to do. in the original series and in the update. obviously, it reflects resilience that we have as a people.
it is a perfect example of opportunity. when jackie robinson came up, tavis, you know better than i do, this was the first real progress in civil rights since the civil war, making that original baseball series a sequel to the civil war series, but it is also reflective of our greed and interest in money, money, money, and the disparity between player salaries today. at the beginning of free agency, they were three or four times with the average working man makes, now it is 100, 250 times. that is a difference and sold challenging. we look at baseball and we want it always to be that sentiment, nostalgic repository of these carefully held feelings. a .300 hit remains the same thing to me as it did to my great great grandfather, and i defy you to find anything else in american life that is like
that, but it is also completely reflective of where we are now. when we think we can get someone else to pay for it or we will float a loan that we cannot actually be confident we will pay back or we will take out that morris that we don't actually know where we will get the money to do it, baseball is right there with us, showing us in a microcosm are larger failings. in any aspect of american life, not just the economics that we focused on right now, but race, ethnicity, the rise of latin and asian players. it has been a huge, positive dimension to the game. we are reflecting trends in our own society as well. the original stars were english and irish and in german, just reflecting the ways of emigration, and now it is hispanic and asian, reflecting a larger patterns of emigration. baseball has a lot to tell us, a lot to reflect, and god willing we will be talking about in 10,
15 years about the 11th inning and we will begin with the perfect game that was taken away from armadno. this is the only team sport without a clock, the only team sport in which the defense always has the ball, the only team sport in which a man's course and not the ball, the only team sport with a regular field, all the outfields are different, the foul territory is different. that is a game that teaches you about loss. you fail seven times out of 10 in this game and you are a .300 kidder, do that 15, 20 years, in your in the hall of fame no other sport would except that level of failure. baby ruth, barry bonds, cal ripken, whoever, they, not only once every nine times at bat. you cannot just in down to michael jordan or have montana hit jerry rice for the touchdown. you might actually have to have
your game or season depend on a middle infielder that you just called up from aaa last week. man, that is more like life than anything else and why we come back again and again to this game. not just me, but all of us, because of what it tells us, good and bad, about who we are. tavis: you could hate baseball and ken burns could sell you on it. that is why he is the absolute best documentarian in this country, premiering on most of these pbs stations september 28 and 29, "baseball: the 10th inning." ken, . have you on this program. >> thank you. -- ken, good to have you on this program. >> thank you. tavis: rebecca traister is the senior writer at salon.com and author of the new text, "big girls don't cry."
she joins us tonight from new york. rebecca, could have you on this program. >> pleasure to be here. tavis: the question that this book really wrestles with, whether the election really change the way that we think of women in power. you argue yes. tell me why. >> it has changed the way we think of women and power. i don't want to suggest that everything is ok now, but i think what we saw during the 2008 election cycle was this expansion of roles for women within a presidential cycle. hillary clinton, who was not only the first woman to get as close as any woman has to her party's nomination for the presidency, you also saw sarah palin. both of these women really did not behave in ways that we thought women may be would behave. this completely open our eyes to different ways that we might see female candidates.
they were competitive, occasionally behaved badly, occasionally behaved well, people support them, often a strongly when they advocated feminist or purportedly feminist positions, which many people thought, no, would amend power. in fact, they attracted very strong women's followings. what i am arguing in part is their presence has helped us expand our capacity for being able to accept female candidates. we have had none of them, very few of them for the presidency before now, and now we have all of these new models of women in power. tavis: two years ago, and it is so late in the game. there are countries all over the world that are way ahead of us. margaret thatcher in the u.k., but i could go around the globe, as you know, about women who
have ascended to the height of office, political office. what are we so late on this? are we more sexist than other countries? >> i think there is no arguing that the united states has women problems. looking at the presidencies and leadership around the world, i don't think anybody has a pat answer to that, especially since in part we were founded as a country, a doctor say -- a democracy that was supposed represent all different people and give them a voice. we have had many problems with not only women but racial, ethnic minorities. we have had a line, until now, of white guys running our country, unbroken. i don't know there is an answer for that. i think the country was founded in part with a cowboy ethos. i think there's something very male when we talk about the founding fathers that has persisted in our notions of what
leadership should look like. tavis: respectfully, every country, to my mind, has been established along those lines. why are we so slow on this issue? >> they have been established along those lines, but they have also had early examples of female leadership. elizabeth rahm and one, catherine the great, cleopatra. -- elizabeth i, catherine the great, cleopatra. other countries have had the opportunity to have seen does lead them much sooner than here. are we more sexist? perhaps, but it is not that clean cut because the united states in part has led the women's movement. the second wave of feminism was berthed in the united states in the 1960's and 1970's, and led the way for other western countries. yes, perhaps things have been harder here for women, but there
has also been more explosive progress for women. i agree, this 2008 election was evidence of exactly how all that we are to the party, but at least we are beginning to throw one now. tavis: 2008, that moment was heralded in large part, because of hillary clinton, who you referenced, people around mrs. clinton advising her to not show her feminine side. was that good advice or bad? >> it had been conventional wisdom for some time, because there was such anxiety and antipathy towards the idea of a female leader. basically any woman who would compete. this is not just true in politics, ask any woman in the business professional world and they're told you don't want to be too feminine. that was the advice that heathery got and she took. i think it was a mistake because one of the things that happened hillary clinton bar herself from
using the emotional energizing language that might have been too feminized for her, but which barack obama used to great effect and connecting with people and a very feminine way, perhaps, connecting to female voters. it put hillary clinton to a disadvantage. that said, i am not sure if she flew the flag early that it would have won the election, but at the end of the primary race she was talking more openly about being a woman, a woman's leader, and people flocked to her. we might have had to go through the hillary clinton campaign before we knew we were ready to be led by a strong women's leader. when sarah palin came in, she immediately talking about talking yourself -- talking about herself as a woman's leader. she said she would break the glass ceiling. she was not shy about positioning herself in history
as the woman who is going to break the glass ceiling. tavis: with sarah palin, i also want to talk about the growing number of women running for major offices in this election, certainly in the state of california, the senate candidate, the candidate for governor, women of the tea party. i am out of time, but more of this conversation on our website with rebecca traister. her book is called "big girls don't cry." go to pbs.org for more of our conversation with her. until then, thank you for attending and it and good night from l.a. and keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org tavis: join me next time with harold ford jr., plus adam levine. that is next time. we will see you then. >> all i know is his name is james, and he needs extra help with his reading.
>> i'm james. >> yes. >> to everyone making a difference, you help us all live better. >> nationwide insurance supports tavis smiley. with every question and answer, nationwide insurance is proud to join tavis in working to improve financial literacy and remove obstacles to economic empowerment one conversation at a time. nationwide is on your side. >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. [captioning made possible by kcet public television] captioned by the national captioning institute --www.ncicap.org--